DISCLAIMERS/WARNINGS: YOU REALLY WANT TO
READ THESE (especially #4) !!!
1. I dont own the characters, I just love writing about them.
2. Theres love expressed in a physical way between two women in this story, though its not particularly explicit. If there are laws about you reading stuff like that or any of the things in these disclaimers, well, you probably shouldnt break the law, should you?
3. There are some allusions to nonconsensual sex in a characters past.
4. THIS STORY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!!! I wanted to create a world where Xena and Gabrielle had been each others major influences for most of their lives, a world where they were and always had been everything to each other. This particular Xena and Gabrielle came to me and developed in my imagination, as characters do, and they were mother and daughter. Though circumstances caused them to meet in this way, they must also go on to live their destiny, which includes eventually falling in love and becoming lovers. I think its a really sweet story that examines an unusual relationship and a unique version of Xena and Gabrielle. However, I realize that it could also be seen as a glorification of incest. That is not my intent, nor is it my intent to hurt or upset people with this story or even the idea of it. Fiction is about fantasy; this story came to me and I had to share it. I know its not for everyone. If you dont think you could possibly feel comfortable with it, PLEASE DONT READ THIS STORY.
-To the Bardic Circle, particularly Kam, and to Raoul.
-Also to Firefly for her beautiful painting Campfire.
-To view Campfire go to-- http://members.nbci.com/_XMCM/nephthys_666/Artwork/Cartoons/Xena_Gab.jpg
-To tell Firefly how much you like it: firstname.lastname@example.org
Description--In this slightly different world, Xena and Gabrielle grow up together in Gaul.
Didja like it? MiladyCo@aol.com
Xena of Gaul
by Xenas Little Bitch
aka Julia NoŽl Goldman
copyright March 2001
Part One: A Happy Childhood
My name is Xena. My life began one day when I was ten. I was a slave, and I had just given birth. I lay on my back, craning my neck to look into my babys face, and in that moment I named her Gabrielle. It was not until much later that I found out the name means messenger of the gods; I just thought it was as beautiful as she was. Suddenly the years of loneliness and abuse I had lived through were forgotten and there was nothing but her lovely face. It was also the moment I decided to escape.
A few weeks passed and Gabrielle grew strong. She was a hardy baby and unusually cheerful. I loved her so much that a life of slavery was unthinkable for either of us now; my own life had value because of her. So I planned well in advance, the right place, the right time. I stole a horse, food, tools, supplies, and a bag full of gold from my owners. I figure I took no more than they owed me for my childhood, for my innocence, for my memories. I rode hard and I rode fast, and by the time I set up camp for the first time, I was three days ride ahead of them. If they even knew I was gone. Id changed directions six times, hidden our tracks, doubled back, crossed rivers, smeared us all with mud to hide our scents, changed clothes, traded horses, and cut my long dark hair short--and that was all on the first day! I was tall for my age, I guess, and I think some people thought I was a boy. In fact, once I realized the advantage of that, I played it up by keeping my hair short, moving stiffly, and not saying much. I was unable to part with the golden mare we picked up in Argos, and she became part of our family, our protector, as we grew up and I learned how to protect us myself.
I talked to them both all the time, Gabrielle and Argo. I was ten years old and the head of my own family, nursing my baby while I hunted and cooked and avoided other people. We traveled for months without really interacting with others. I didnt want to bring us to anyones attention until I had mastered a weapon. My first choice was the bow; I made one by the camp fire over a series of evenings. Instinctively I knew that the ability to defend yourself physically was the only real way to be safe in this world.
I was never without my Gabrielle, always hanging in a pouch on my back or my front, drooling and giggling like she did all the time in those days. I kept her clean and fed and warm, and I talked to her constantly. She was one of those wise babies, the kind that scare some people because they seem like they can look into your soul. And she was beautiful, with yellow hair and eyes that eventually turned green. I was never bored or lonely or unhappy when Gabrielle was around. She was my world.
After at least six months of traveling with no hint that we were being hunted, I started to relax and consider our options. Knowing no one, and being, in the eyes of the world, not only a child but an escaped slave, I figured it best to continue our solitary life. We were in southern Gaul when I had this realization, and Id really found myself liking it there. The land was beautiful and peaceful, the back roads seemed a little safer than Greece and it was so far away that I no longer felt like I was on the run; that felt good. So we traveled around for weeks, slowly stocking up on flints and small weapons and spices and anything I could think of that we might need. I had taught myself to read from a Greek translation of the I Ching that I had stolen from my owners, but I wanted to read more, and to write, and to be able to teach these things to Gabrielle as she grew up. So I bought some scrolls, some blank, some not. I found out what grew best in the regions rocky soil, and I bought seeds. My own creativity amazed me, and what I did not think of myself inspired me in the markets as I shopped. I was still probably only eleven, but from the way the village girls acted, I must have been passing for at least thirteen, and a handsome thirteen at that. A young boy and his baby sister out picking up some things for their mother. It made me chuckle. I wondered sometimes if I had a mother living, and what that would feel like.
The spot I finally chose for our home was so secluded it is hard to describe. A small field, surrounded on three sides by high, rocky, incredibly treacherous cliffs from which you could see the field but never figure out how to get there through the forest that bordered the fourth edge. You could eventually reach us after being lost for weeks in the dense and confusing underbrush, navigating along unstable rock ledges and crossing the river twice, to finally come to a steep pile of rock that seemed pointless to attempt to climb. The trees grew so close together that you couldnt see the sky, but I had been scouting the territory for weeks and I knew how to guide Argo through the forest and up to the beautiful, hidden place we would call our first home.
Look, Gabrielle, were home! I cried as we cleared the forest and found ourselves in the little field. She giggled and Argo whinnied; they approved. Let me show you the cave were gonna live in until I build us a house. It wasnt that big, but the ceiling was high enough for a horse, and it had a natural chimney that would be perfect for a fireplace. Argo stood patiently as I unloaded her of all our supplies. I took off her saddle and bridle, telling her it was gonna be a while until she had to wear the stuff again. She whinnied and wandered off. Gabrielle lay on a blanket, staring at me from across the cave.
So here we are. Home. Weve never had one before. Its going to be great. We can have a real bed, and Ill make shelves for our scrolls and a table to eat at. Well have everything we need. Youll see.
I crawled towards her and grabbed her, holding her high in the air above my head as she laughed. She was going to be a year old soon, and I figured Id done pretty well so far. I thought about the future, and I saw us growing up here, both getting older and bigger, learning about nature and each other, playing games and building things, training. It was time to unpack.
First I set up house in the cave and built sort of a low, heavy chair that I could tie Gabrielle into, so I could put her down and know she wouldnt get into trouble. Then I planted the vegetable garden. I made it look natural, like it wasnt really a garden, just in case somehow someone could actually see it over the ledge. Then I spent the next few weeks in the forest with Gabrielle on my back, setting up traps. I talked to her about the different kinds of traps, how some were holes for animals to fall into and some would pull people or animals up into the trees; I made sure to show Argo where they all were. Yeah, I admitted the traps were as much to keep us safe as to catch food. I was a good hunter; I didnt need traps. I explained to Gabrielle that I wanted us to be safe, that I never wanted the things I couldnt remember happening to me to happen to her. I knew they had been bad. The shadow of them terrified me sometimes. But that was not the kind of childhood Gabrielle was going to have.
So the months went by. I made beds and tables and chairs. I experimented with cooking. I sewed clothes and made up games to play with Gabrielle. I wanted to sing to her but I didnt know any songs, so I wrote some just for her and sang them all the time. And I practiced with my bow, and with knife throwing. These weapons gave me some distance; no one would be able to get close enough to touch me. Or Gabrielle. Ever. I read all the scrolls we had, and I taught myself to write. I kept a simple journal of our life; when I planted things, when Gabrielle spoke for the first time.
I was trying to attach a new shelf to this huge wooden thing I had created on which we kept most of the foodstuffs. I was hammering at it, and of course I hadnt taken everything off the other shelves. Suddenly I heard my name.
I turned to look at Gabrielle, and as I did I moved just outside of the area into which the shelf of heavy bottles fell with a crash.
Wow. You did that on purpose, didnt you? Say it again.
Xena, she said, in this tiny little clear voice.
You saved me, I woulda gotten hurt. Thank you. Got any other words youve been keeping secret?
Okay then, well wait and see. Lets get this glass cleaned up.
It was little moments like that that made me feel like I had the most wonderful life in the world. Who could be more happy than Gabrielle and I? Time moved on and she was soon walking and talking up a storm. She liked to wear her hair all messy, and she didnt care how dirty she got when we played. I kept getting taller, and I grew my hair back long. I could feel my body changing. My legs and my breasts ached as they grew. I just kept getting stronger; I was proud of my muscles. I enjoyed the simple challenges of our lifestyle and how they made me strong. But the way Gabrielle changed was fascinating. She was a fast learner; I never had to tell her something twice, and I watched as she got better and better at figuring stuff out on her own. Slowly she started looking less like a baby and more like a little person. Watching her grow was like watching an entire world unfold before me. A world where everything was beautiful.
The years passed and I figured it was safer not to build outside structures that would bring attention to us, so I just developed the cave further. We had really nice shelves now, and rugs and framed paintings, all made ourselves. Every six months or so I would take Gabrielle and Argo to a village with me and trade for new supplies, but we would choose different villages each time and only stay for moments. By the time she was four, Gabrielle never stopped talking, asking questions, going on and on and on about everything she felt and saw and thought. I knew it was my fault; all those hours I talked to her when she was a baby. She was always getting into things, nothing dangerous, but shed get all involved in these plans that werent really sensible. Her example helped me stay out of trouble myself. Because, really, I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I was doing well. I guess I had a natural sense of what might end up getting a person hurt and what might not, and I tried to instill it in my little friend with the huge green eyes. We slept cuddled up together every night, as we had since the night she was born. In the mornings when we woke up we would see each other and smile.
One night when I was about fifteen, we were sitting out under the stars, showing off our knowledge of them, what little wed learned from this scroll Id recently found on a shopping expedition. If you could just locate the North Star you could find the rest--if you knew what they were called, that is. We had our usual argument about the big spoon.
Its a bear, Xena. Look. A big happy bear.
Ive told you a million times that youre crazy. Its a big dipping spoon.
Okay, so if I say its a bear, then what?
Then I win, said Gabrielle.
And then what?
Nothing. I just win.
She sat there smiling at me with the look in her eye that made me crazy. Five years old and she was smarter than me.
Its a spoon, I said.
What happened before?
She looked down and made her voice quieter, Before we came here.
I dont really remember, I said. I still didnt. Shed never asked me anything about the past before. When I was little, I ended up in a bad place. I dont know how. People did bad things to me. I guess it hurt a lot so I dont remember it. But thats where I got you.
Gabrielle was looking at me so sadly. I knew it was bad things.
I took her little hand in mine and looked into her eyes, But Gabrielle, when I saw you for the first time, everything changed. You were so beautiful. You made me so happy. Youre the reason I had the strength to leave, why I wanted to make this beautiful home.
Of course really.
Are you my mother?
I was in your body before?
I bet that was nice.
It was, Gabrielle.
Can we still be best friends? She looked nervous so I grabbed her and pulled her into my lap.
I promise. We will always be best friends. I will always love you best.
I promise too, she said into my hair. I wrapped my arms around her and looked up at the sky. So many stars.
By the time Gabrielle was six shed decided she wanted to become an Amazon. She made us scour the countryside for scrolls about them. Then I had to make us fighting staffs and we would spar with each other. I cant describe how difficult it was to fight with someone that small, but it got easier as she got taller. Since I could deny her nothing, there I was sewing tiny leather Amazon costumes and cooking traditional Amazon meals.
One rainy night when Gabrielle was about seven that another first occurred. We were sitting at our table just inside the cave, looking out at the rain like we liked to when it was raining. We were eating this stew from a recipe created by the Amazons of the Steppes, and she had been particularly quiet all evening.
You could at least say whether or not you like the stew, I said.
She smiled. Im sorry. Its very good. Ive just been thinking.
Do you ever think it might be fun to go on some adventures?
Adventures, huh? I asked, pretending to be considering the concept for the first time, You mean like take Argo and spend a bit traveling around, seeing what we run into?
Yeah. Thats it. Youre so smart, Xena.
I laughed and tousled her hair. Thanks. Yeah, I think it might be fun to go do some stuff.
Youre big enough and strong enough to protect us, no matter what, she said, obviously aware that this was part of why we had stayed here, away from people. Had our life taught her that people werent safe, or simply that I didnt think they were? It was not the time to ask.
Anywhere you want to go?
Weve read about so many places, Xena, she said, her face suddenly flushed with excitement. Id like to see a play. Maybe ride in a boat. See people who dont come from Gaul.
But of course part of me was scared. Yes, I was seventeen and I knew I was talented with my bow and my knives and my sais--even the cursed staff, especially if I were up against a dwarf. I had every right and ability to travel as a young woman with a little girl. Its just that part of me still remembered what it was like to live in nameless fear, dreading the moment that you would make a mistake and be caught, and terrible things would happen to you. It was all so vague and shapeless, but the feelings were still very intense at times. Yet part of me did want to see the rest of the world, to see a better face of it than fate had shown me so far.
So as soon as I finished installing the huge doors Id made for the cave, we loaded up Argo and set off. We made quite a picture out on the road. A lovely golden mare with a bad attitude, a striking young woman with long black hair and a bow on her back, and a tiny obnoxious Amazon who wouldnt stop talking. It was gonna be a long trip.
Part Two: Action and Adventure
We always lived simply, so life on the road wasnt that big a change. Gabrielle missed our bed, but when she rested her head on my chest, I could tell it didnt really matter. We traveled north for a day with little incident; it was on our second day that we encountered trouble. I saw the situation from a bit down the road, and I slipped off Argo, whispering for Gabrielle to be quiet. I shoved them just into the woods because I didnt want them to see what would happen. It was six men against one unarmed woman, and I wasnt going to let them hurt her. I shot three of them in the back before the others even noticed anything was happening. They turned towards me, dropping the woman, to see what was going on.
Its just a girl, said the uglier of the two.
Yeah, and she shot Tyro and Darrel and Likos, said one of the others as he drew his sword. I drew a small knife and aimed below his belt. He came at me so I threw it. He went down.
You leave her alone! I yelled at the last two, hoping theyd just go. They looked at each other and ran. It was exhilarating.
I called out to Gabrielle, You okay, Gabrielle?
Yeah. You okay?
Yeah. Ill come get you in a minute!
Gods, she was cute.
So I walked over to where the woman was lying on the ground.
Are you all right? I asked. She looked out of it, but healthy enough. She had wavy brown hair and she was probably forty or so. She smiled at me, a huge, happy smile.
Thank you, young woman. You were just in time. Not that I have much modesty left, but I do have my pride. Would you help me up?
I helped her up and said. Where are you headed? My companions and I are going north, looking for some entertainment, if you need an escort.
Youll see. Come on. I looked down at the four men on the ground. None of them seemed too badly hurt; they werent bleeding too much and they were all sitting up, looking stunned; I have good aim. I took the woman to where Gabrielle and Argo waited. The tiny Amazon had a very concerned look on her face, and seemed to be checking to make sure I wasnt injured.
Im okay. Dont worry.
I thought I heard fighting. Did you have to hurt anyone?
Yeah, but look who I saved.
Gabrielle suddenly noticed the woman and gave her a huge sunny smile. The woman smiled back.
Whats your name?
Im the Amazon Gabrielle.
Nice to meet you. My name is Cyrene.
Nice to meet you too, she said, giggling.
Shes always giggled a lot, I explained, She never grew out of it. Did you?
No, she said.
You look tired, Cyrene. Get up on the horse behind her.
Her name is Argo, said Gabrielle.
Nice to meet you, Argo, said Cyrene as she mounted shakily and put her arms around Gabrielle. I took the reins and lead them on towards Givenchy. Gabrielle began telling Cyrene one of her endless stories about princesses and hydras and Cyclopes. Her favorite phrase when telling a story was And then. She was only seven, but she was good. I could tell it just took moments for Cyrene to fall under her spell.
We reached Givenchy by nightfall. I asked Cyrene if she knew any good inns there, and luckily shed stayed there recently and knew of a decent one. We stabled Argo and got a room for the three of us. It was so nerve-wracking, because I didnt know how to do anything. Its not like the scrolls we read were about making a deal for a room at an inn. But we got one, and Cyrene asked that they send us up some dinner.
The room was nice, with two big beds and a window with a view of the fields behind the inn. I made a fire in the fireplace and we all took off our boots and relaxed. I sat on the floor near the fire with Gabrielle asleep between my legs, lying back against my stomach.
Are you two related? Cyrene asked eventually.
Shes my best friend, I said, and someone knocked on the door. It was dinner and soon we were all eating.
So what are you doing traveling in these parts? asked Gabrielle. Sometimes she sounded like she took her words right out of a scroll.
Im looking for somebody whos been missing for a very long time. Ive been looking for years. I dont know if Ill ever find her.
Thats so sad, said Gabrielle, kicking me under the table, Isnt it, Xena?
Yes, it is. I hope you find your friend.
I noticed she reacted to my name; it was the first time she had heard it. Maybe it was the same name as the person she was looking for.
What about the two of you?
Gabrielle looked at me for an answer.
Were having an adventure, I explained smoothly, We lead a peaceful, solitary life. I mean, as peaceful as possible considering its Gabrielle and all, but its a quiet life. We figured wed see a bit of the world.
We want to see plays.
Yeah, explained Gabrielle, We want to see strange animals and magic tricks.
I see, said Cyrene. I could read her already and I knew she was about tell Gabrielle something that would make her happy and possibly drive me insane.
What? asked Gabrielle.
Well, I was just passing through Saint Laurent, just a day or so west of here, and they were preparing for a huge festival. I imagine there will be plays there, and if a person had good aim, thered be money to be made.
She was good. Too good. Gabrielle was looking at me and bouncing up and down a little. I shot her a look.
Its not like we had any plans, I said.
Will you come with us, Cyrene? the little one asked. There she went, making it clear who was in charge of our party. At seventeen I had realized that trusting no one was not going to get me far in life, and Gabrielle seemed to really like her.
And so it was that our odd foursome set off towards Saint Laurent. As we got closer, we passed other groups also on their way there. Apparently there would be many athletic competitions, and a great deal of money to be made. A chance to test my skills. Part of me was terrified again; a huge village full of people, hundreds of them all around us. I checked to make sure all my weapons were in place, including the smallest knives I had hidden in secret spots. I was not going to leave Gabrielle alone for a single moment.
The village was insane with the festival. It was the summer solstice, Id completely forgotten. People rushing everywhere, brightly dressed, full of anticipation and nervousness. Within moments Gabrielles wish to see people from different lands had been granted, and she gazed awestruck at a colorful bird that sat calmly on a mans shoulder. Oh how I hoped I would not have to end up living with one of those. Cyrene and I each held one of her hands, and I noticed Cyrene seemed terribly happy. She generally had that slightly distracted air about her that I had always associated with people who were drunk, when I knew she hadnt had a drop. But it was more than that. It was like she really liked us, and liked being with us in this town at this moment. Was it what the Gauls called joie de vivre? Or perhaps, this suddenly dawned on me, it was Gabrielle. That it wasnt just that she and I were so perfectly matched, so meant to be together, but more that she was so special. That she bubbled over with this enthusiasm that no one who met her could resist. I mean, how could they possibly? There she was at the end of my arm, holding onto my index finger, her hair in a messy braid with a few dead leaves caught up in it. She was just the best thing in the world. I didnt mind sharing her with Cyrene for a few days. After all, Id had her all to myself for so many years.
Apparently Cyrene was very popular with the innkeepers in this part of Gaul, for we found a room on the eve of the festival. It was an inn with a huge tavern; we stood in the middle of the main hall and stared at the sign announcing Bard Competition Begins Tonight. Cyrene was saying how marvelous while I was thinking wed be up all night every night. Gabrielle put her arms around my waist and looked up at me.
Thank you so much. This is wonderful.
And I beamed down at her, putting my hands on her back and pressing her against me. It felt strange to be in a tavern full of strangers and have Gabrielle look at me like that. Like her love was so precious I feared if others saw they would want to try to steal it or hurt it or at the least they would laugh at it. I didnt know how a mother was supposed to love her child, I didnt know how anyone was supposed to love anyone. I just knew that the way I loved Gabrielle was like a mountain; gigantic, solid, and elemental. I picked her up and put her on my hip, then followed Cyrene to our room.
It was the nicest room I could remember ever seeing. It was large and square, with the two beds on opposite walls, both wide and overflowing with colorful pillows. On the walls hung bright tapestries; fields of tiny flowers, purples and yellows and reds. There was a big window across from the door, with heavy dark drapes, and a view of the river that ran along the edge of the town. There was a big wooden table in front of the window, with chairs. The fireplace was just to the left as we entered. Gabrielle ran across the room to one of the beds and buried herself in the pillows.
I noted again to Cyrene her ability to get these nice rooms at a moments notice.
I told you, Xena, Ive been traveling around here for a while.
And I dont like to sleep on the ground.
Gabrielle laughed and threw a pillow at me. An embarrassingly one-sided pillow fight ensued.
Gabrielle decided that to ensure we had a good seat for the opening night of the barding contest, we would have dinner at our inn, at a table right by the stage. Cyrene said she had some things to do before dinner but shed meet us there, which she did. The food was good, the place was packed, and Gabrielle had this glow to her all night. Gods, perhaps it was time we moved out of our home in the woods, maybe we both needed to see more of the world. It seemed to be agreeing so well with her. I had my first ale that night, and Ill admit it made the barding competition that much more enjoyable. About halfway through the qualifying rounds, my ears were startled to hear announced from the stage, And our next competitor is Gabrielle the Amazon Bard. I looked at Gabrielle and she looked at Cyrene, who was beaming. Gabrielle looked like she didnt know whether to slap her or kiss her so she did both, and ran up the steps to the stage. Her size immediately garnered her the attention of the entire audience. She just smiled and told the story of how we met Cyrene, in her small, clear voice. She was so over-dramatic and so charming, that everyone in the audience was enthralled, hanging on her every word with smiles on their faces. In her version of the story, I was this larger-than-life hero, so beautiful and powerful, yet almost silly at the same time. She got down from the stage to thunderous applause. I gave her a big hug and told her how impressed I was. She grinned and asked for pie, slapping Cyrene in the arm again. Apparently Cyrene had guessed she dreamed of entering the contest but didnt dare, so she did it for her. I had to admit I really liked this woman.
As the evening wore on the competition continued and Gabrielle fell asleep in my lap. The tavern was still full and loud, but it was late and Id had a lot to drink, so I wasnt really noticing much other than my immediate surroundings.
Tell me what happened, I said to her.
What happened when?
When you lost the person youre looking for. Tell me that story.
Cyrene looked at me closely for a moment and said okay. I lived in Greece and I had a husband and three children, two boys and a girl. The lives we lived were uneventful until one terrible day. My husband went to pray at Ares temple as he often did, but this time he didnt come back until late. When it was time to put the children to bed I realized my daughter wasnt there. I asked my husband if he had seen her and he said he had. Cyrene took a sip of her drink and stared down into it. I was totally focused on her. He said Ares had told him things about our daughter, terrible things that he wouldnt tell me, and he had sold her into slavery. I...did everything I could to get more information out of him but he wouldnt give and I ended up killing him. I was caught in the act and found guilty by the town; it was my husbands right to sell our children if he chose, and I was a murderess. As I had been well-liked before, my judgment was to be banished and to have my remaining two children taken away from me. And so I began my search for my daughter. At first I had no clues at all, and as the years passed, Id hear vague hints of things. I was always on the move; thats why I know so many inn keepers.
Did you hear she was near by? I asked.
I had heard whispers about a strange girl who popped up around here sometimes, who looked like my daughter, and was about the same age, but no one seemed to know where she lived.
Gabrielle sat up, totally awake, and got into my lap. She looked at Cyrene with this strange expression on her face.
What does your daughter look like? she asked.
Cyrene blushed and looked down at the table. She was a little drunk too. She has blue eyes and black hair, shes strikingly pretty, she would be seventeen.
I could feel my arm around Gabrielles waist tighten.
Gabrielle asked, Is her name Xena?
Yes, Gabrielle, her names Xena.
I just stared at Cyrene. I wasnt going to try to deny what was obviously true.
I knew it! giggled Gabrielle, I just knew it! Isnt this great Xena? She asked, squirming around to look at me. I didnt know what to feel. I was scared. Gabrielle said, Nothing has to change. You can still be friends, right Cyrene?
Of course! said Cyrene, Thats what Id like, to keep being your friend.
Okay, I said. So I have a mother after all. How old was I when that happened?
You were seven, said Cyrene gently.
Suddenly I was very tired. Maybe it was the thought of having a history suddenly; a lot of weight where before there was nothing. I was about to suggest bed when the announcer said he was ready to divulge the names of the 25 people whod been chosen from the 100 entrants to compete in the bardic competition. When Gabrielle the Amazon Bard was announced, there was again huge applause. Gabrielle jumped up and down in my lap, hugging me.
Dont pee on me, I warned. She laughed harder.
I slept like a rock and woke up with my first hangover. Gabrielle and Cyrene were already having breakfast at the table by the big window, whispering and giggling. The sunlight came in and hit them at an angle that lit them up so they glowed. My mother and my daughter having breakfast together. What a strange thought. I lived with that woman the first seven years of my life and I barely recognized her. I had been a slave for only three years and I had blocked out everything. What would have become of me if not for Gabrielle?
Explain the rules, I said to Gabrielle as the three of us walked through the inn and out onto the street.
I hold your hand and stay with you no matter what.
And if we get separated?
I go back to the last place I remember seeing you and I wait there.
So we set out, almost immediately running into a javelin throwing contest. Bets were still being placed when Gabrielle shoved me closer to the action. I scowled at her. She held Cyrenes hand and patiently waited for the contest to start. There was a target and wed each have three throws. Myself and seven men, all older and bigger than I was. They just ignored me. Until all three of my shots hit the bullseye. And then they just stared at me as I collected my winnings. It went like that all morning.
At midday we sat at a table out in the street to eat and watch a puppet show. Gabrielle thought it was hysterical--shed never seen anyone but me perform until the night before, so why shouldnt she?
I dont feel comfortable winning so much, I blurted out to Cyrene.
Well, you cant help it that youre good, Xena.
I dont think the men like it. Losing to a woman. I wish they didnt care. I dont know what to say to them. I stared into the leaves above us. It was a beautiful day.
Why dont you enter some competitions youre not good at, so theyll get to see you fail?
Im not sure theres anything Im not good at. Ow!
Gabrielle had kicked my leg under the table, hard.
And you say Im obnoxious! she said.
You are, I said.
We spent the afternoon at the market. After a great deal of thought and wandering through the stalls, Gabrielle and I settled on these brightly colored sheets. They were dyed through a technique Id never heard of before, where the fabric was tied with small bits of rope before being dyed, so different areas of the cloth ended up different colors. Gabrielle was enchanted with them.
We had dinner again at our inn with Cyrene. After dinner she went to catch up with some friends and we stayed for the competition. Gabrielle went on early, and she told a story about two magical fairy sisters who lived in a secret glade. The tale was basically a true one, but no one would have believed it. When Gabrielle fell asleep, I carried her up to our room and put her in bed. I remembered Cyrene liked to have some wine before going to sleep, so I locked Gabrielle in the room and went back down to the tavern. It was still crowded though the competition had come to a close, and I saw some of the men I had beaten at games earlier in the day. I knew they saw me too. Something about them felt wrong. I went to the bar and ordered the wine, listening to them talking behind my back, loud enough for me to hear.
...who she thinks she is...
...doesnt know how a womans supposed to behave...
Ill teach her what a man is, teach her a womans place.
They all laughed, and I could sense them moving closer to me. There were five of them. I felt a churning deep in my stomach, like I was going to vomit or pass out. One of the men was right behind me; I could smell his terrible hot breath and he pressed his hard thing against me and suddenly there they were, three years of memories, spread out before my horrified eyes. I saw myself as a little girl and I saw men like these and what they were doing to me was beyond imagining. And then the men in the tavern were the men in the memories and I spun around and punched each one of them hard in the neck. They fell to the floor around me like bags of garbage. I took the wine and went back to our room.
Gabrielle was asleep and Cyrene was still out with her friends. I poured a glass of wine and sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, feeling the darkness all around me. I couldnt stop shaking. No wonder I hadnt remembered! The pain, the humiliation, the fear. The images just wouldnt stop coming. I heard a floor board creak behind me and I turned quickly, a knife suddenly in my hand. It was Gabrielle and she stopped moving forward when she saw the look on my face.
Hey. You look scared, she said. She looked sleepy and a little scared herself, wearing a long night dress, one of our new colorful sheets wrapped around her like a cape. Can I come over there and hug you?
Will you put the knife down?
I put the knife down and she came and sat in my lap, facing me.
Id rather not talk about it.
We never keep secrets from each other, she whispered, pushing my hair behind my ear. The way she was sitting on me made it so that she looked down at me, Please tell me, Ill make it better.
I started to cry and I rested my head on her chest, pulling her tiny body against me. She pulled the bright sheet firmly around my shoulders, to keep me tight against her, and kissed the top of my head and stroked my hair while I cried for a while, rocking us gently back and forth. I could hear her heart beating under my ear, so steady. I was supposed to be her rock and here she was, all calm while I fell apart. I let her slide back down my legs away from me a little, keeping my hands at her waist. She looked so concerned and precious, I had to smile. She smiled back and kissed me on both cheeks.
Tell me whats wrong.
I dont want you to know about it.
Im supposed to be your best friend.
I took a sip of my wine and wiped my face on the sleeve of my shirt. You are, Gabrielle. Its just that the things would make you feel bad too, and you already feel bad enough for me, dont you?
She nodded. I picked her up and took her to our bed. I changed, and lit a candle for Cyrene. I was just going to assume she was okay. It wasnt really late yet. I got into bed and immediately Gabrielle crept over to me, laying her head on my shoulder and wrapping her arms around me. For as long as I could remember, the only comfort in my life had come from this tiny little body, this brave little soul.
Did something happen? she whispered gently.
Nothing so big. It just reminded me of...what happened before. My voice failed me.
You mean you remembered some stuff?
I nodded in the almost-dark.
Thats wonderful, I mean, even if its bad stuff, you remembered it. Thats good. Come on. Nod.
I guessed she was sort of right. So I nodded for her.
Thanks, she said, squeezing me.
They really hurt me, I whispered, I cant blame myself for forgetting. When the images came back into my mind, they made me gag.
I dont blame you either, Xena. I think youre brave and beautiful. You saved me. Those things would have happened to me too.
She shivered and I pulled her closer. I didnt want to know what she thought had happened to me.
I love you so much, Gabrielle. You save me every day.
In less than twenty-four hours Id gotten back both my mother and my memories. Well, the bad ones at least. No man would ever, ever touch me again. I knew I could make sure of that. I let myself focus on the sound of Gabrielles breathing, and soon I too, slept.
The festival continued and our days there passed. I didnt tell Cyrene what had happened or what I had remembered. Shed had enough pain because of me and she was so respectful of my adulthood and my secrets; she asked me nothing. She seemed content to just spend time with me, and with Gabrielle. By punching those men in the neck Id gained a certain amount of respect from the other men at the festival. I was amazed that theyd even told anyone theyd been bested by a woman. But they had, and no one came near me again, no matter how many competitions I won. By the end of the week I felt strong again, and rich. The images from when I was a slave came into my mind more often than I liked, but there they were. I had no choice but to deal with them; I didnt have to let them take my power.
Gabrielle placed third in the barding competition, which I would have thought would please her. But in fact, she was almost angry that she had not won. No matter how many times I explained she should be pleased to have beaten so many people, so many adults, she explained again to me that she had wanted to win and third place was not a decent substitute for winning. I wondered aloud how she had become so competitive and stubborn, only to have her turn and laugh in my face. At least she was laughing.
It was our last afternoon there; we were leaving in the morning. Cyrene and Gabrielle had gone to see one last play. It was the kind where everyone sang the words and I just couldnt sit through another one. Instead, I looked around the town one final time. I passed a tent with a woman sitting outside of it, and she caught my eye. A fortune teller, though I could have sworn I hadnt seen her before--and here I was thinking Id seen every bit of Saint Laurent a hundred times by now. She beckoned me closer.
Let me tell you your future, she said, and she touched my hand, looking down into my palm, a strange expression on her face. Then she looked up at me and said, Please come inside. I followed her into her tiny tent and we sat at a small round table. All around us were candles and crystals and and all kinds of magical trinkets. Gabrielle would have loved it, insisted we redecorate. The woman put my hand on the table between us and stared into it for a bit.
You have traveled a different path from the one that was planned for you.
What do you mean?
You were born to a certain destiny, and something went wrong. This fascinates me. Will you allow me to read your cards?
Sure, I said, more calmly than I felt. I remembered Cyrenes story about Ares, the Greek god of war. My father sold me into slavery in an attempt change my fate. The woman took out a stack of cards and set them on the table. She told me to shuffle them, to feel them, to communicate with them. I did my best. She spread some of them out on the table. They were gorgeous; dark reds and blues, well-worn and trimmed with gold. The woman examined the cards intently and spoke almost as if she was in a trance, as if she was reading my story in them.
You have vast potential, unusual power. You are destined to change the world, you will even be given opportunities to rule it. Your strengths are such that you could be a great hero, or a vicious despot...the messenger of the gods, do you know who that is?
Of course I did. Gabrielle, I whispered.
She is your daughter, she said slowly, But she was not supposed to be. It was the only way that she could reach you in time to save you.
What do you mean?
Gabrielle has to save you. Gabrielle always saves you, in every life.
Every life. Why did that make sense?
She looked directly at me, Stay away from Greece. It is dangerous for you there. There are those who would seek to hurt you, to steal your power.
I will. Thank you.
She bowed her head. There is no charge. Just do not forget what I have said.
I smiled and told her I would be sure not to. I stumbled back out into the blinding brightness of the day.
At dinner that night, Cyrene seemed unusually serious.
Whats wrong, Cyrene? Gabrielle asked.
She smiled, Im going to miss you two a lot. Ive grown fond of you both, very fond. Well, I always was fond of you, Xena, she said, that silly smile on her face. I smiled back.
Im glad we found each other, I said.
Ive done nothing these last ten years but search for you, now Ive come to the end of that quest. I plan to settle down in Givenchy, in a house with an extra bedroom. Start a small business. I would be happy if you both came to visit me.
Of course we will! said Gabrielle, jumping up and crawling under the table to come up in Cyrenes lap. She hugged her fiercely and whispered something in her ear that made her look very happy.
We wont lose touch, I assured her. I was so glad that she did not suggest coming to live with us. We didnt need anyone, we had each other; I was glad she knew that. But it was nice to have a mother, to have another friend.
So we dropped Cyrene off in Givenchy on our way home. I showed her a spot in the forest where she could leave us messages if she wanted to, and told her Id check it every so often. It was a good goodbye in a way, because it was the beginning of the next part of all our lives. Just knowing Gabrielle was enough to teach me that change was a good thing.
Part Three: Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same
So we got home to find things as we had left them. We decided to unpack all our new possessions slowly, to take our time adding them to our life, to savor each one. It was wonderful just to be home, to lie naked in the grass and know that no one could see me, to play loudly with Gabrielle and not worry about what anybody thought. To never have to interact with anyone save her. And the nights were so much more beautiful in the forest, dark and quiet, endlessly alive.
It was great to be home but the time away had changed things. I think more than anything we realized that our solitary life was out of choice now; we could survive out there just fine if we wanted to; perhaps there was even a place where we belonged. So in time we would visit Cyrene frequently enough to feel almost as if we were part of that world as well as our own. I knew this was good, because what the fortune teller had said was right; Gabrielle and Cyrene were supposed to be in my life, but there was more to my destiny than gardening and singing and playing games. I didnt know the answers. I just knew now that they were there to be asked, and that Id ask them when the time came.
Within a couple of months Gabrielle perfected the art of dying cloth with rope tied around it, and she created some of the most beautiful things Id ever seen. It was all she wore for years, all we slept on. She loved the explosion of color, like a flower bed in bloom, she said. Life started moving quickly. Days passed like hours. Gabrielle turned eight, then nine. She wore her hair long, with charms tied into it, and always the colored cloth. Short skirts and little tops. When she wore tops. There were weeks at a time we would both forego clothing altogether.
Our visits to Cyrene in Givenchy soon took on a pattern; we would arrive just before each solstice, and stay ten days. She had opened a small tavern with a few rooms to rent, and one that was Gabrielles and mine. The first time we visited her, Cyrene suggested Gabrielle tell her stories in the main room after dinner. Within the year, it was known throughout southern Gaul that Cyrenes in Givenchy was the spot for stories every solstice. Gabrielle the Amazon Bard was developing a bit of a following. It made me proud. But not as proud as it made her.
By the time Gabrielle was ten she was much more interested in beauty than she was in fighting, and in fact she became almost obsessed with the concept of good and evil, and examining every detail of every moral implication of everything we did. In retrospect, I realize it should not have surprised me when she insisted we both give up eating meat. It didnt take, of course, but she had to try.
It was around this time, when I was twenty or so, that I finally had to admit that I had unusual gifts. It has been easier to avoid thinking about it when we didnt really interact with other people, but now that we did, it had become clear. I won any competition I entered, from darts to wrestling to chariot racing. I was faster and stronger than any man I had ever seen, and I could jump three times as high. Looking back on it I realized that simply bringing Gabrielle and myself up alone in the forest was something most ten year olds couldnt have done. I could embroider and cook and paint and make furniture and sing. The night I shared my fears with Gabrielle she said:
There are people who have talents for things. One man is a great rock climber and one is a talented poet and one has skill with a sword. Whereas you have many skills.
We sat next to each other in front of the fire in the pit just outside the cave. I stared at the tips of the flames, at the tiny pieces that continuously broke off and melted up into the night.
Do you think its fair for me to have so many?
Its not about whats fair. You have them. They make you extra special. You just have to use them the right way. Then youll feel okay.
Howd you get to be so smart? I asked, pulling her in for a quick hug.
As I said, youre not the only one with skills.
I dont feel like someone who has an important destiny, Gabrielle.
I know, she said quietly, but thats why Im here, to remind you.
Im here for a lot of reasons, I bet. I figure mostly to be the light of your life, though.
Certainly your vanity is blinding.
Ummmmm, she said, but I am still, right?
Always, I said, shocked that she would ever need to ask.
One night when Gabrielle was eleven, we were sitting up late in bed, reading, each of us by the light of her own candle. I had no idea what shed been reading but suddenly she said,
Xena, will you tell me about sex?
Didnt I tell you already?
You told me about how animals make babies and said that people do it too. Ive been reading all kinds of scrolls and Im getting the feeling theres more to it than that.
She grinned at me in the candle light.
So I hear, I said, smiling back at her, But I really dont know much about it. What had happened to me was not what Gabrielle was talking about.
Why dont we ask Cyrene? she said. So we did.
A couple of days later we found ourselves in Givenchy. We entered the tavern and Cyrene spotted us immediately, running across the room and pulling us both into her arms, smiling that crazy smile.
To what do I owe this wonderful surprise? she asked.
I want to learn about sex, said Gabrielle.
Cyrene laughed and Sex? Yes, I could help you with that, Gabrielle.
Now is fine.
Ill see you both later, I said.
Are you sure-- Cyrene began.
Please, I said, smiling and raising my hand in protest. As I left I was happy to see them choose a table by the window at the back of the tavern. Soon I found myself sitting outside in the dirt under the window, my back up against the wall, listening.
She told me about the animals, how they make babies and everything, and that when people do it its called sex. I guess, the scrolls Ive been reading and stuff people say, makes me think its about more than making babies.
Well, youre right, Gabrielle. Its much more than babies. I guess it has two other components to it. It feels good.
Oh, yes. When its right, it feels better than anything in the world.
And when its wrong, I think, there is nothing that is worse this side of death.
Yes. Have you ever touched yourself in a place that makes you feel extra good?
Yesssss, said Gabrielle after a long pause.
Well, its like that but more so, because of the other part.
The sun was hitting the trees on the bushes surrounding my hiding place in the most stunning way. I never touched myself there.
Whats the other part?
Well, as I assume youve picked up from your scrolls, love! Love is the other part. Sex can feel good, but when its with someone youre in love with and want to be close to like that, thats when its like magic. Its hard to explain why it feels so good, but it does, in every way. It binds people together.
I think I understand. Sort of, I mean.
Well, I should tell you that its not something youre born wanting or feeling. Usually people dont have the desire to do it until theyre, say thirteen to eighteen or so. Either because it feels so good or because theyre in love, or if theyre lucky, both.
Wow. Its like I can hear her thinking. Is that the only way to make a baby?
So far as Ive ever heard.
Does sex always feel good?
Cyrene pauses, No, not always, Gabrielle.
Like if you didnt want to do it but the other person made you?
Yes. That could hurt.
It could hurt your heart, too, she whispered sadly. So she knew after all. Gods, when had she figured it out?
You are such a wise young woman. But you know, it wouldnt change the way you felt about the baby.
Oh, I know that, silly! I mean, yeah.
There was an uncomfortable pause.
What else? asked Gabrielle, Theres got to be more.
Lets see. It feels good, its best when youre in love, you know the mechanics of it, well, some of it anyway...
Women? I echoed Cyrene in my mind.
Two women...or two men. Could they fall in love and have sex? Would it feel good?
Yes. You cant make babies that way but, yes, there are some people who only feel drawn to members of their own sex, and some who do sometimes.
Why do you say that, Gabrielle?
Well, because it sounds like sex is something youd want to share only with the person who was most important to you in the whole world. I cant imagine wanting to do it with anyone but Xena.
Why didnt I see that coming?
But Xenas your moth-- I could practically feel Cyrene clamp her hand over her own mouth.
How did you know? Gabrielle asked quietly.
Who else would you be now, really? How did you know?
I asked her. When I was five. I guess I thought the same thing you did. She said yes. We never really talked about it again. I think I knew who you were the moment I saw you.
Suddenly I realized that Id deprived both these women of part of their identity; their connection to me. I felt like I was no ones daughter, no ones mother. I was only me. I couldnt see myself attached to anyone like that. Gabrielle was my light, my heart; a part of me. She was the only good thing I remembered; still now I could only remember the years of slavery. My real childhood was still lost. All I knew was the pain and fear, and then eleven wonderful years with Gabrielle. Her and me and Argo together; thats what family was. I didnt remember Cyrene comforting me or reading to me, I didnt remember my father or my brothers at all; I didnt know what it felt like to be taken care of by someone bigger. I came back into the present to hear the following:
I dont think of her as my mother.
I know. I think of her as my daughter. I know she doesnt want me to, but I cant help it. When you get older, Gabrielle, you will meet other people, maybe men, maybe women, and you will fall in love with someone and you will have sex with them, and you will remember this day and think of me and laugh.
Maybe youre right. But why does it matter that Xenas my mother?
Cyrene paused. I had no idea what she was going to say. Well, its just one of those things people dont do, or dont talk about doing, anyway. I believe it is mostly thought to be wrong because it is usually not the wish of the younger person. I think in your case, Gabrielle, because life has so much to offer, so many people and experiences, that for you and Xena to bind yourselves to each other in yet another way might be limiting for you both.
I stood up quietly and walked into the woods. That was one conversation I was not going to tell anyone I overheard. Sex. Gods. It wasnt my fault these terrible images came into my mind when I heard the word. It wasnt my fault I didnt ever want to have sex, or ever see anyone who struck my fancy, or even consider desiring romantic love. Was it? I loved Gabrielle, and that was so much love right there. I understood what she had meant exactly; why would either of us ever look outside our bond to someone else for anything? I mean, it was wonderful to know Cyrene, and to have a passing acquaintance with many people who lived in Givenchy, but we were Xena and Gabrielle. What more did we need? What Cyrene said made sense, yet it also felt completely wrong that there would ever be anyone as close to Gabrielle as I was. Luckily I had a few years until Gabrielle would really start thinking about sex, until she would most probably, as Cyrene said, become interested in someone. Or she would not. Either way, it was years off.
Part Four: Revelations
Time passed. We were happy. Gabrielle had embarked upon the tremendous task of writing her own epic poems about great moments in Greek history, or myth as I suspected much of it was sometimes. She became obsessed with it, asking travelers if they knew any stories, telling her tales at Cyrenes. The scrolls themselves took up hours of her time, as she rewrote and rewrote and eventually used her finest scrolls and most expensive inks on the final product. Each one was magnificent and unique; I was impressed. She had begun to keep a selection of her work on display at Cyrenes; anyone could stop in and read the stuff whenever they wanted, even when we werent around. In fact, it was the only place in town where there were scrolls available in this way, and keeping the townsfolk entertained became an obsession of Gabrielles. She wrote all the time.
One rainy afternoon we were lying around on the furs in front of the fireplace. I was reading about medical techniques and Gabrielle was translating scrolls from the Greek.
Its just amazing, said Gabrielle, shaking her head.
Not Hercules again, I warned playfully. Shed been obsessed with his deeds for months, and I couldnt help but tease her.
Well, sort of, she said, but you know as well as I do that studying legendary heroes is as important to our destiny as is learning how to dress wounds. I just never put this together before. Cronos and Rhea were sister and brother, and also the parents of Hera and Zeus. While Hera and Zeus themselves had children together, most notably Ares.
Hmmmm, I said, examining a diagram in the firelight.
Pay attention, Xena, she said, as she continued, now this is the even more amazing part. Zeus slept with Io to produce Epaphus, and then, many generations later, he slept with their descendant Danae to produce Perseus, eventually sleeping with Perseus granddaughter Alcmene, to produce Hercules.
Wow, I said, genuinely impressed, So what youre saying is, your great hero is the product of generations of incestuous inbreeding?
I guess so, she said, laughing, I hope we get to meet him some day.
Anythings possible, I said, because it was true.
Around the time Gabrielle turned thirteen was when things really started changing. I knew the day she got her period, because when she climbed into bed that night I could smell the blood. I wrapped my arms around her.
Congratulations. Does it hurt?
A little. Mostly it feels strange.
I raised her nightshirt and put my palm to her stomach. Her skin was warm and so soft, and I moved my hand in slow circles, trying to pull the pain out of her and into me. After a few minutes I asked Is that any better? and realized shed fallen asleep. I continued to stroke her stomach as I too drifted off, and I would keep doing it while I slept--its one of my skills.
I remember the freezing day just after winter solstice when I realized she was no longer a child. It was so cold we hadnt gone outside or bathed in two days and we raced to the river, pulling off our clothes and cursing the weather. As I chased after Gabrielle, I suddenly noticed that her body had a different kind of roundness than it had had before, and that she had a very different body type from mine. She was all curves and muscles, whereas I was, well, straight. She jumped into the water, leaving on a short sleeveless shift. She was no longer a little girl. Everything about her was still amazing to me. She was pink and white in the cold, her eyes flashing green at me as she smiled.
Ill wash your back, she said, and I turned it to her. We were in water up to her thighs, crouched curling in on ourselves for warmth. Her hands moved over my back with the soap and she muttered under her breath.
What did you say? I asked.
What did you say? Come on tell me.
I said So many scars, she whispered, her hands still bathing me.
What do you mean, Gabrielle?
You have scars on your back, she said quietly.
Like from a whip, she whispered. She was sort of leaning over me, her hands on my back, her voice in my ear.
Why didnt you tell me before? They must be horrible.
No, no Xena. They make you look strong. They remind me of your bravery, even as a little girl. How lucky I am to have someone like you to protect me. I assumed you knew they were there.
Youre so sweet, I said, and turned to smile at her. She splashed me. We finished bathing. I ran back to the cave with her on my heels. Scars all over my back. I remember the whippings, or some of them anyway; I should have assumed Id have scars. Maybe because it was a childs memory and children dont think about scarring. It was a long time ago. I wasnt a little girl anymore either.
Inside the fire was going strong and we dried ourselves off. Our home was so beautiful, and the big wooden doors kept much of the cold out. In the back was our bedroom; a big, low bed with piles of pillows, huge polished wood chests with intricate carvings Id done myself. The walls of the cave in the sleeping area were hung with thick, warm, colorful tapestries, beautiful and practical against the harsh rock. I remember the winter wed spent sewing together huge strips of different colored silk and velvet, embroidering flowers all over everything, finally sewing in a thick lining; I was still proud of the work today. As she quickly pulled off her wet shift to replace it with a dry one, I noticed something dark in the small of her back.
On your back.
Nothing, she said, letting the dry shift fall gently down onto her body.
Nothing? You sound like me today. Show me.
Her back to me, Gabrielle sighed.
She lifted up the back of the shift and I moved toward her into the light of the fire. It was a tattoo, and my fingers reached out to touch it. It was slightly crusty, obviously new. It was our initials tied together.
Gabrielle... I whispered, tracing the black ink on her pale skin.
I...I wanted...I cant explain. Its just that...
Hey, its okay, I said, putting my arms around her stomach from behind and pulling her against me. Its beautiful.
You really think so?
I nodded, my head resting on her shoulder, against hers.
Its what I am, Xena. Its like, everywhere I go, everything I do, Im you as well as myself. Im us.
I understand, I whispered, staring into the fire.
Why have I always been so bad at explaining how I feel? You are my legs and my eyes and my heart all rolled together. That is how essentially a part of me you are.
Gabrielle turned in my arms and put her head against my breast. I love you so much, Xena. You make me so happy.
I held her tightly and told her she made me feel the same. Like air and flowers and sunshine.
A few months later I realized she was purposefully keeping her journal hidden from me. She had to know I would never read it, and though I was curious simply because she hid it, I still wouldnt. Nor would I even look for it. If there was something I wanted to know, I would ask her. Keeping some secrets was probably a good thing anyway.
In the dream I had, I was magnificent. I wore elaborate, shining armor, and rode a giant warhorse. I brandished a sword so effortlessly, twirling it in my hand. There was nothing else around me, no opponents, no comrades, no scenery. I woke up suddenly, breathing hard, and then snuggled back into Gabrielle. Just a dream.
The next afternoon found us sitting on the grass, drinking lemonade. It was mending day, so we were sewing and patching. I was distracted by my thoughts and getting tired of sticking myself with the needle.
What are you thinking about? she asked me.
Do I have to be thinking about something?
Xena, she started, annoyed, and then she stopped herself, Fine. No problem.
She went back to sewing.
I had this dream last night, I said.
Yeah? she said, looking up at me from under her bangs. The sun was shining down on her hair, making it glow.
Do you think I should get a sword?
Im not sure. Why dont you already have one?
I dont know.
Just talk to me and see what comes out, she said, looking for a different color thread in the basket of mending supplies.
I guess Ive always thought that a sword is the ultimate weapon that a warrior would use.
So to get a sword would be to choose that path?
I guess so.
And you have mixed feelings?
Yeah, and I had this dream last night.
Yeah? I asked.
Gabrielle put down the skirt she was sewing and looked out into the forest. I dreamed of you, a great warrior on a beautiful horse.
Did I have a sword?
Was the horse brown?
So theres my answer; I get the sword.
We had to travel all the way to Lagerfeld to find anyone who could make a decent sword. After looking into a few blacksmiths shops we decided to call it a day and get a room at an inn. I had to do this; if I was going to face my own fate, Id have to be armed correctly.
Dinnertime found us in the tavern. It was crowded and loud. We were drinking wine and waiting forever for the food to come.
Ive decided I want one too, she said. She wore only a simple green dress. I kept my eye on all the people who were staring at her. Thirteen was fair game in Gaul, I guessed, but Gabrielle was innocent and beautiful and no one was going to come near her if I could do anything about it. And I could. I could do a whole lot of things about it.
You want one what? I asked, too preoccupied with thoughts of her to listen to the young woman as she sat across the table from me.
One sword, she said, a satisfied expression reaching her face as roasted meats and potatoes were placed in front of us. We ate.
Why do you want a sword? I asked her.
Why do you want a sword? she replied.
It was my dream.
I had the same dream, Xena, she said, If you stop being argumentative I will try and be more honest.
I looked at her. My Gabrielle. How dare I do anything but listen and accept?
Xena, your path is my path. I want to learn all the things you learn, do the things you do. I want to be prepared for our future.
That makes sense, I said, and then I remembered what Cyrene said, that Gabrielle would probably grow up and fall in love with someone and visit me on holidays. A concept so ridiculous I couldnt even picture it, yet I said, What if you end up choosing a different path?
We belong together. Side by side, always.
I had never heard her voice quite that sure or deep before. Its not like I could deny my identical feelings, especially when they were so eloquently expressed. I looked out into the faces of the women and men who continuously snuck peeks at her, and I gave them my scariest scowl. Id had too much to drink.
Xena, how do you feel when you think of me with someone else?
I dont think about it.
Youre thinking about it now. Admit you dont like the idea of me being with someone else. Sharing things with them that I dont share with you, having a different life.
Gabrielle, I whispered, putting my hand on her hand where it lay on the table, I dont like the idea at all. But I want you to have the best life you can possibly have.
Then were in agreement.
Why has it always been impossible to lie to her?
We had swords made that week to our exact specifications. We took a few lessons, learned the basics. It was clear that Gabrielles skill was in defense, and mine in offense. Again we were a perfect match. We bought scabbards and leather bits that we could put over the blades when we sparred.
Drinking in the tavern our last night in Largerfeld, we had the following exchange.
Im beginning to feel it myself, said Gabrielle. We both wore the dirty cotton trousers and shirts wed worn at practice that day. All our clothing was dirty, which was our cue to go home.
Feel what? Drunk? Everyone in Gaul drank all the time. There was always a new wine to be tasted. Even Cyrene made her own.
Ha ha! Just a little tipsy. No, I feel my destiny. Something about using a sword. Dont tell me you dont feel it too? It feels right in my hand.
Yes, I said, It feels right.
We went home and added the sword practice to our daily regimen, but things were, again, different. Time continued to pass, and time changes everything. The last night of the new calendar found us lying in piles of furs out on the fresh snow outside our home, staring up at the stars.
Im sorry if Ive been difficult lately, Xena, said Gabrielle, Ive just been going through a lot, I guess.
Anything you want to talk about? The sky was dark blue and very far away, but the stars seemed close. It was cold, and snow fell lightly down upon us. Gabrielle lay on her back next to me, pressed against my side under the furs. We knew the names of all the stars and the planets now, the stories behind the names, and more than a few tricks of navigation. I picked a favorite constellation and moved my face closer to hers so she could follow my finger along my line of sight, Which one is that?
That is the constellation most widely known as The Great Bear, she said, smiling, her voice deepening and taking on a hint of wonder, the way it always did when she began to tell a story, no matter how short a one it would be, There once was an attendant to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. A young huntress of Arcadia, named Callisto. She betrayed her oath of chastity to her virgin goddess, whether out of her own choice or that of Zeus lust it has never been completely clear. Callisto gave birth to a son, Arcas, and was soon after cursed; it was either the jealousy of Hera or the revenge of Artemis, but Callisto was transformed into a she-bear. One day, years later, Arcas came unknowingly upon his mother during a hunt and was poised to kill her, when Zeus intervened. He turned the son into a bear himself, and placed them both in the sky, where they remain today, as the Great and Little Bear.
You know Ive heard said theyre just a couple of spoons, I whispered. She giggled.
You really hate losing, dont you?
There was no need to answer her question.
What do you think about that story? she asked.
I think its interesting that the main place the story has different interpretations is whether or not Callisto bedded Zeus of her own choice. To me, that makes all the difference. What do you think?
I think it makes the Greek Gods sound capricious. And Im glad Arcas didnt kill Callisto, that they ended up together among the stars. Our story is their opposite: we started out there.
Yes. Alone among the stars...The Greek Gods. I guess youre wise to study them, since they seem to be a part of our destiny.
Sometimes the idea of facing our destiny scares me, Gabrielle whispered.
I know what you mean. Im so happy with our life the way it is, I said, taking her hand under the blanket. But I know we have to go out there and help people, we have to make the world a better place. The truth is, a big part of me wishes we could stay like this, that it could always be just you and me together here.
Yeah. But our lives arent destined to be so simple, she said, curling her body around mine, Were the kind of people the bards tell stories about. Whose lives become legends. Well be remembered long after were dead. She snuggled in closer, as if these thoughts were reassuring to her. Well, as she planned to be the one to write of our adventures, I guessed she wasnt off balance to be excited.
I cant wait to see what well be remembered for, I said.
You wont see. Youll be dead, remember?
Oh yeah, right. Sorry.
Will you write the first part, Xena? she asked suddenly, almost shy.
The first part?
Of our story. Youre the only one who remembers the beginning.
Sure, I said, I can do that.
We lay there for a while longer, smiling up into the snow as it fell onto our faces.
The eve of spring solstice found me drunk, sitting at a table in the back of Cyrenes tavern with my feet balanced on the chair in front of me. It was crowded up front by the stage where the Amazon Bard performed. I was in, as Gabrielle would say, one of my moods. There were at least eight people gathered at her feet that I knew for sure were in love with her. Tonight she wore white, a simple dress with a dark green belt around her waist, and she drank both ale and water as she declaimed. She looked beautiful. So beautiful that even this close to her I felt like I missed her.
Finally she finished and another bard went on. She came over and sat next to me. We often sat like that, as if the physical proximity was more important than the eye contact.
How was I?
Wonderful, as always.
Did you like the last story? she asked, picking up my mug to drink.
Yeah. I was really drunk.
Was the dragon a bit much?
No, it was perfect.
Ding! You lose. No dragon in the story. What were you thinking about instead of listening to me?
Nothing. Ive just been drinking too much.
Ah yes. It happens. She leaned her head against my shoulder. I stared out at her fans on the other side of the room. They took quick glances at us on and off.
Your admirers are staring at us.
Isnt there one that you--
Its only natural if you--
Didnt you just hear me say no? she raised her head and whispered ardently into my ear, Theres only one person I have ever wanted to be with... I find new parts of myself every day, Xena, new feelings that I want to share with you. Youre everything I am, everything I want. I... burn for you...I know youve lead a different life... She put her hand on mine where it rested on the table.
What if, I whispered, my throat suddenly tight, What if I dont know how to feel those things? What if I cant?
Do you love me, Xena? she asked quietly.
Am I as necessary to you as air?
Yes, I whispered, looking down at our hands.
Do you ever want to be with anyone but me?
Then trust that it will all work out fine. Ive had too much to drink. Can we go to bed?
Yeah, I said, staggering to my feet, then reaching down and putting my arm around her waist to support her. We made it up to our room and passed out.
I woke up too early due to the bright light shining directly into my eyes. It was terribly painful and I groaned, rolling over and hiding my face in Gabrielles side. She woke up, moaning and blinded as well.
We forgot to close the curtains, she croaked.
We forgot to drink water, I whispered.
We changed positions so we were holding each other, hiding our faces in each others hair.
Gabrielle, about last night?
The things we said?
Yeah. Could we just see how it goes?
She laughed and said, Yeah. Sure.
I could tell, though, that as time went on, it mattered more and more to her. The way she looked at me sometimes, with this longing, this sadness. I know she didnt mean for me to see it. And I felt like it was my fault anyway, not hers. I should have been able to give her what she wanted, what she needed, as I always had; we were Xena and Gabrielle after all, self-sufficient and supportive, both yin to each others yang. I hated disappointing her, but I didnt know what to do.
Near summer solstice, the year I was twenty-four, there was one particular night that I can still remember vividly to this day. We were all in Saint Laurent at the festival; we went every year in celebration of the our reunion, always staying at that same inn, and that night there had been a huge party. It was very late, and I was very drunk. Gabrielle and Cyrene were already in bed. There were only a few people left in the tavern, but they were loud, and drunk, some of them playing musical instruments in a way that caused me pain. I went outside for a walk, hoping to sober up a bit.
It was as hot outside as it had been inside. The air was heavy in that way that only rain can remedy. I walked along the street, thinking of the last time Gabrielle and I had sparred, and suddenly I heard these strange sounds. They drew me to an old barn off the side of the towns main thoroughfare. I moved quietly through the shadows until I came to a spot where I could see into the barn, and what I saw amazed me. There was a beautiful woman leaning against the wall of the barn, she had long thick blonde hair and her eyes were closed. I had never heard sounds like the ones she was making, and as I looked more closely I noticed her shirt was pulled open, exposing her breasts to the blue light of the moon that streamed through a hole in the roof. Something about the way she looked made my stomach tighten, and then I noticed someone was on their knees in front of her, their head level with her crotch. Suddenly I felt a throbbing in my own body in the same place the blonde woman was being touched by...another woman. Suddenly I felt almost faint, and the feeling between my legs became more intense. I put my hand into my pants and I touched myself. It felt so powerfully good it made me close my eyes for a moment; my entire body felt different in the most wonderful way. There was a wetness there that I had never felt before, and when I opened my eyes to look again at the women, I felt myself moving against my hand. I could think of nothing but how incredible it felt, like everything was centered on that spot and the feeling only grew more amazing until suddenly it exploded, leaving me dazed and gasping for breath. Even my drunken mind knew it; everything would be different now. I walked to the river to take a quick swim. The scent of my arousal was so strong to me, I knew Gabrielle would smell it, and I didnt want to explain. She had been doing that all these years? Interesting. The moon was full and shone down on the water all around me. The water was almost cold, I was so hot, the flat stones under my feet were soothing. I wanted to tell Gabrielle all about it, how different everything felt now, but then I suddenly realized why she had been keeping her journal hidden. She had wanted so much to tell me about these new feelings, and yet saw that maybe there were some things that were better off left to show themselves in time.
The following winter we set out for Cyrenes for a surprise visit at exactly the wrong moment. We were halfway there when this became apparent and it was too late to find decent shelter. Snow poured from the sky; I couldnt see more than a swords length in front of myself. Argo pushed on and I held Gabrielle tightly in my arms. We were both underdressed, even with all our blankets and furs wrapped around her, and I could feel her shivering constantly. Night fell and the temperature dropped. Eventually the snow turned to freezing rain, soaking me; only the parts of me that Gabrielle clung to stayed dry. Argo did not suggest stopping, and she had an instinct when it came to things like that; she knew she could make it to Cyrenes. If we chose to stop, I had no guarantee wed survive the night, so we continued on in the freezing rain and the terrible wind. My thighs hugging Argo and my arms hugging Gabrielle, I found myself dozing off. I was in a frozen place, and it was very cold, the sun sparkled brightly, but there was nothing there, nothing for it to shine upon. And then there she was, Gabrielle, glowing like a rainbow, picking up all the color from the light. She got brighter and brighter and showed no signs of stopping.
I woke up and we were in front of Cyrenes tavern. The rain had turned back to snow again. Argo whinnied and it woke Cyrene up too and she was helping me off the horse in the storm. Gabrielle was unconscious in my arms, and I stumbled inside. Later I woke up in bed, Gabrielle sweating, feverish and pressed against me. I touched her forehead and it burned. I felt such love for her, so vulnerable and soft. What did I ever do to deserve being a part of something like her? I woke up again during the night, still only half myself, to a strange feeling. It was Gabrielles lips moving against my neck. I focused on it and realized it was becoming a very nice feeling. Kind of like lying in the sun after having too much ale, like the way it felt to watch those women in the barn in Saint Laurent. I pulled her head away slowly and she whispered my name.
Are you awake? I asked. There was no answer. Her breathing didnt change. With the merest suggestion, my sleepy body asked hers to curl on its side, and I wrapped myself around her and fell asleep again.
By the next morning the snow was as high as my waist and still falling. Not that I went out into it. I spent the day feeding Gabrielle everything Cyrene brought for her and watching her sleep. She had gotten a fever once before, when she had been only a baby. I had been less scared then. Perhaps because I had more faith, because faith was all I had in those days. Or perhaps because I just felt more now. As I sat in the bed with her head in my lap, I realized what would be necessary for me to meet the challenge of my true destiny: complete surrender.
Part Five: Complete Surrender
For the next six months Gabrielle did her best to get me drunk at every opportunity that presented itself, and some that she created out of nothing. She didnt realize what had changed in me, that I understood something of desire now. Enough to tell me that she was right; I had passion deep within me, and it was for her and no one else. The way I felt when I was with her was different, and the way my body felt all the time had changed. Like it was mine in a new way now. Sometimes when I was alone I would touch myself and think about those women in the barn. I knew I could never allow anyone but Gabrielle to touch me that way, though I was afraid to actually imagine her doing it. It wasnt like what the men did to me when I was a child; I now understood that that was about violence and power. What the women in the barn did was about pleasure. What Gabrielle wanted to do with me was about love. Well, and pleasure too, but that was secondary. So shed get me drunk and wed end up doing crazy things like going swimming in each others clothes or arm wrestling or getting into spitting contests. All kinds of silly activities. And wed stand or sit or lie there, covered in water or mud or feathers, just laughing and pointing and slapping each other. Wonderful times that we knew we would barely remember.
My twenty-fifth birthday party was supposed to have been a surprise, but somehow those things never work out. We were in Givenchy anyway because Id promised to help build some new houses; I could work harder and more steadily, for longer hours than anyone. I still appreciated knowing my real birthday; I hadnt for so long. I lay on my back in bed that morning with Gabrielle draped over me, heavy and warm. A quarter of a century. I figured Id done pretty well for myself so far, Xena of Gaul. I wondered what lay ahead, by what name I would be known as I grew into the woman I was destined to become. I looked around the room, our home away from home these last eight years, and it all made me smile. The notches in the wooden doorjamb wed made to represent our height as we grew. Some of the paintings wed painted and awards and certificates wed won over the years. I now took for granted that wed been lucky enough to meet Cyrene again, and that both of us had had a taste of a more regular life. Not that we craved normalcy; it was just something we knew we wouldnt experience otherwise. Heroes never did, and there was no doubt in my mind that what Gabrielle believed was true: we would be heroes. We would help people, and have adventures, and risk our lives for the greater good. The stronger help the weaker, and Gabrielle and I were very strong. I couldnt imagine any other life I would be proud to lead. Just thinking about it got me a little choked up.
Gabrielle began to awaken. I felt it first in her breathing, then in the tentative, unconscious movements of her body. Her weight shifted off me and onto the mattress as she made small stretching sounds and then wrapped herself around me, resting her head on my shoulder.
Happy birthday, Xena, she said, her voice cracking. I chuckled and hugged her tight against me.
Thanks. I was just thinking about how happy I am.
And the day hasnt even started, she said, clearing her throat.
Did you know Ive held you while youve woken up almost every day for the last fifteen years?
Thats enough to make you happy?
Well, of course, but the rest of it too. I was just looking around, thinking about my life and all, feeling satisfied with it.
I love your life too, she said, and I love waking up this way. Weve got a big day planned.
Yeah? What if I dont wanna play? I teased.
Oh, youll wanna play all right, she said, beginning to tickle me. I squirmed out of her reach and easily pinned her down on the bed. Laughing, I looked down at her. Our eyes met and suddenly we both stopped laughing. My heartbeat seemed particularly loud to me. Moments passed and I realized that I had almost kissed her. It had seemed like the natural response and it scared me, so I pulled back before I even started to move, before I even realized that I had wanted to.
So whats first on our list of activities for today? I said, getting off her and sitting back on the bed next to her. She sat up too and smiled the most beautiful smile at me.
You are just the most wonderful person in the world, did you know that Xena?
Yeah, I know. You tell me often enough and Im not that stupid.
Okay, first, because this day is for you, after all, were not going to bother stopping to have breakfast. Well just pick something up and eat it on the road.
I like the way you think.
We headed downstairs. Did she know I almost kissed her? It was easy for me to dismiss the question as Cyrene enveloped me in a huge hug and handed me a sack of sweet rolls.
It was a bright, shiny day out, and we walked around the town as if we had no goal. There were lots of people out on the street, happy and peaceful, going about their business. Givenchy was a good place to live. We ended up in front of the healers house.
What a lovely birthday present, am I ill?
Ha ha. No, the healers apprentice has an unusual skill and I purchased you the use of it for your birthday. I raised my eyebrow at her and she laughed. Nah, nothing that exciting.
So she took my hand and pulled me inside the small building; I had to bend down to get through the door. The healers apprentice had been expecting us; she welcomed us graciously, wished me happy birthday, and asked me where I wanted it.
What? I asked.
Your tattoo, she said, like I was an idiot. I looked at Gabrielle, who was grinning at me.
Its a surprise, Gabrielle explained.
So you havent thought about what design youd like? she asked me.
I dont have to think about it, I said, and I gently pulled Gabrielle in front of me. Turning her back to the healers apprentice, I lifted Gabrielles shirt, exposing her tattoo. I want that. But here. I pointed to my right upper arm.
Gabrielle smiled like Id given her the world.
Well then, sit down and lets get started.
So we did. I held Gabrielles hand and sat there while the woman stuck a needle into my flesh more times than I chose to count. It was torture but holding Gabrielles hand was nice, and I tried to pretend it didnt hurt, but of course she knew better. When it was done, Gabrielle paid for it and we went back out into the light of day. We were still holding hands and she pulled me into the forest just behind the healers place and sat me down on a favorite tree stump of ours. She stood between my legs, her head just a little higher than mine.
You got the same tattoo, she said.
But on your arm. Why?
So everyone would see. So there could be no question.
No question about what? she asked softly.
That we belong together, I whispered back.
I have another gift for you, she whispered, I was gonna give it to you later, but I...really want to give it to you now. If you dont like it I can take it back. Ready?
I nodded. I looked up into her eyes, so full of emotion they shone, and I knew what the gift would be.
Close your eyes, she whispered. I closed them. I felt the breeze against my skin, and the heat that radiated from her body where she stood between my thighs, not quite touching me anywhere. I felt the air move near my face as hers came closer, and then slowly, suddenly, finally, her lips touched mine. They felt soft and sparkly, they put little kisses all over my mouth, coaxing my lips into a response. I kissed her back, slowly, delicately. My heart fluttered and my stomach felt strange. My lips had found a new way to touch Gabrielle, to be with her, and it felt good. After a few moments, she pulled back slightly and looked down at me, smiling.
Did you like it? she asked quietly, staring into my eyes as if to divine the truth of my response.
Yes, I said. I reached up and touched her face.
Im so glad, she said, I love you so much Xena.
The way she said it felt completely different from the thousands of other times. It made me want to hold her close, and I did, pulling her against me and tightening my thighs around hers. I rested my head against her chest and closed my eyes and just sat there, breathing with her. Gabrielles hands on my back felt strong, her body in my arms felt solid, yet everything seemed to quiver. It was me. I was water. The moment was so delicate, so beautiful. My body felt fragile; the places where it touched hers tingled, anticipating and fearing. I didnt have to ask her if she felt it too; this was the point, the proof, the magic. Something that had been hidden was so no longer.This was part of our destiny; there was no questioning it.
I pulled back slightly to look up at her. I understand now, I said, smiling at her like a fool, though I thought her grin was anything but foolish.
Took you long enough, she whispered, her words suffused with happiness. We stayed there for a long time, just feeling the way we felt.
We ate lunch in a field just outside Givenchy, and afterwards we practiced sword play. Gabrielle was particularly fierce that day, and I found myself on the defensive a great deal of the time. I still didnt know why I had these unusual abilities, or even how to describe them exactly, but I always had an unfair advantage over anyone in a fight. I wasnt paying good enough attention, and suddenly Gabrielle went for an overhead swipe at my shoulder; I brought my sword up and blocked hers just an inch from my body. I looked into her eyes and felt this fire travel through me, distracting me, and my sword slipped, causing hers to push it down into the naked flesh of my shoulder.
We jumped back from each other, me swearing, Gabrielle dropping her sword and putting her hands over her mouth.
Im okay, I said, Its not that deep.
She stepped towards me, her hands fluttering around my wound, trying to both touch it and not touch it.
I hurt you. Oh, Xena. Im so sorry! She had tears in her eyes.
Youre being silly. It was an accident. I pulled her into my arms, not caring about the blood that flowed down into our clothing and my new tattoo. I was distracted.
She giggled. Yeah?
Oh yeah. Being around you is very... different now.
In a good way. Lets go bandage me up.
Cyrene pretended not to notice we were covered in blood. She also pretended she was not preparing for my birthday party. The cut was so minor I wasnt even dizzy but Gabrielle insisted on babying me, and I let her. I always let her.
You need stitches, she said, Could I try?
You want to stitch my wound?
Yes, she said quietly, I mean, if we are going to be warriors together, sometimes we will be in situations where well need to do these things for each other. But also I just want to.
Youre evil. Go ahead. It cant be any worse than the tattoo. But to be honest, I liked the idea.
She pushed me down on the edge of our bed and ruffled my bangs. Then she bent and kissed me gently. More casually than before yet her mouth had the same effect on me; fuzziness, pleasure, anticipation and fear. She washed the blood from my shoulder and stitched it up with such concentration as Id never seen in her before. Having her that close to me was different now that I had tasted her mouth, now that I had felt her body against mine in a sensual way. It was like there was a whole new side to everything. I loved watching her bent over my shoulder, surveying it so seriously as she pulled the needle through my skin.
She did a good job on my wound; Id never seen better and I told her so. She blushed and sat down next to me.
Whens the party?
The surprise party. My birthday...
Ohhhhhhhh, that party. It starts just after sunset.
You never could lie to me, Gabrielle.
I would never want to.
My injury hurt so I decided to drink to dull the pain. And of course Gabrielle chose to join me in my endeavor. I decided we should do it in the tavern, and of course Gabrielle protested due to the party preparations. I said I didnt care, so we went and sat at our favorite table in the back, drinking ale and talking. Cyrene looked at us nervously as she hung colorful paper streamers and banners that said happy birthday on them.
This is fun, I said, toasting with Gabrielle, To fun.
We sat with our arms touching, our legs resting on the chair seats under the table in front of us. Slowly people began to gather for the party. I was enjoying how confused they were by my presence. As we drank and talked, I realized that the party had started around us, and that it wouldnt touch us if we didnt want it to. People were having fun, whether because I was a year older or not, it didnt matter. The empty mugs piled up on our table, and Gabrielle was just beautiful. Flushed and animated and silly.
Suddenly she asked me a serious question.
Xena, is there any part of you that thinks maybe we shouldnt be doing this?
What? Like I didnt know. I stared out into the room at nothing.
You know, kissing.
A very small part. You?
Very small, she agreed.
Why? I asked, still not looking at her.
I guess, when I think of people I know kissing their mothers, it seems weird, it seems off somehow. And maybe it is and because I dont really think of you as my mother, Im just not seeing it
You amaze me. Yes, thats how I feel too.
But the rules for us are different.
I sure hope so, I said, and we both laughed.
The night went on. There was dancing. We danced. We talked to people, we played some stupid games and I won a lot of arm wrestling matches. People gave me gifts. It still felt strange to me to know these people, and I felt like I didnt really know them. I was Cyrenes quiet daughter to them, and to me they were her friends, and Gabrielles friends.
Soon enough the crowd called for Gabrielle, as it always did, and drunk as she was, she took the stage. She told a couple of my favorite stories, and then a tale I was less familiar with.
I sing of Oedipus, the most tragic of men. When he was but a babe, an oracle told his father, King Laius of Thebes, that one day his son would grown up to kill him. So Laius, thinking to change his fate, thrust a spike through the infants feet and left him out to die alone on Mount Cithaeron. As fate would have it, Oedipus was rescued by a shepherd, and raised by King Polybus of Corinth, who of course had no idea of his real identity. Oedipus grew up and one day the Oracle at Delphi told him that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. So to avoid this fate, he left Corinth and traveled for a while. One day he came upon a man on the road and had an argument with him that ended in the mans death. Oedipus was not aware that it was his father Laius that he had killed, but it was indeed true. He continued on to Thebes, a city that was at that very time being plagued by the great and terrible Sphinx. The Sphinx asked Oedipus her riddle, What walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night? and Oedipus guessed that it was man. This, the correct answer, caused the Sphinx to kill herself, thus saving Thebes. By way of thanks, Oedipus was offered the throne of Thebes by the regent Creon, as well as Creons sister Jocastas hand in marriage. And Oedipus accepted, not realizing he was fulfilling the second half of the prophecy by marrying his own mother, who as it happened had been his fathers distant cousin as well. They had children together and lived their lives. Many years later, there was famine in Thebes, and the Oracle advised Creon that to solve their problem he should find the slayer of King Laius and expel him from the city. The seer Tiresias saw and revealed Oedipus identity. Seeing what she had done, Jocasta killed herself, while Oedipus blinded himself, leaving Thebes, shunned and cursed, an outcast. And the moral of the story is, you cannot fight your fate.
Thunderous applause, of course, and she came back down to sit with me.
That was wonderful.
I told all those especially for you, you know.
I know. As, Ive explained before, Im not stupid. Do you realize that after all these years, you are still the only thing that really interests me? I asked her.
Yeah. Im not stupid either. She laughed so hard she started to cough.
Im too drunk to be here. Can we go?
Its still your birthday. In a few hours Ill be in charge again, she said between coughs, Enjoy this while you can.
Meet me out back in two minutes, I said, slowly getting up from the table, using it to steady myself. I grabbed two bottles of wine and headed out into the night. By the time she was in my arms again Id convinced myself I wasnt crazy. I held her tight for a moment.
The treehouse, she said, and started running. I followed and when we got there she climbed up first and I handed her up the wine bottles, then proceeded to climb the tree without using my right arm.
Id made the treehouse years ago. When wed first started visiting Cyrene, sometimes wed wanted more privacy than our room at the inn could provide; we hadnt been used to being around people. It was a small treehouse; the ceiling high enough for me to stand slightly hunched over, and it had enough room for us to lie down. It had a two windows and as Gabrielle lit a few candles, it became clear shed been up here recently; it was clean and there was a pile of furs against one wall. We sat down next to each other on the furs and looked out the window into the night.
Have I wished you happy birthday recently?
Not in at least an hour.
There were mugs and wine already there and I poured us some. I guess she had thought we might end up here. We sat leaning against each other and holding hands, just staring and drinking for a while. The moons light made the clouds look very white as they moved slowly through the sky.
This has been a wonderful birthday, Gabrielle. My best ever.
Which part did you like the most?
Hmmm, I pretended to think, The part where you wounded me with your sword.
How did I know you were going to say that?
You want me to show you the part I liked the most? I asked quietly.
Yeah, she whispered, Show me. She was staring at my lips. I could feel it. I bent down and kissed her. The moment our mouths met it felt a thousand times more intense than before. It was deep and strong, almost urgent. Soon we were sitting facing each other, leaning against the wall, holding each other and kissing. Inside her mouth it was so warm, so wet. I felt her so completely; every place she touched me it was hot and tingly. Her hands on my back, her body pressed into mine. The gentle tickle of her long hair against my arm. More than anything, it simply felt like Gabrielle but stronger. Part of the intensity was how drunk we were; I knew that, but the need I felt to touch her more deeply was very real. We were both breathing hard.
She pulled her mouth away from mine and whispered in my ear, I love you so much.
I love you too. Should we stop for tonight?
I guess we should. Weve had a lot to drink. Lets spend the night here. Her eyes lit up at the idea of camping out.
You know I cant resist you, Gabrielle. So we cuddled up in the furs and spent the night in the treehouse.
Our last few days in Givenchy were strange to say the least. I felt so different around Gabrielle, sort of shy and uncertain, yet fiercely possessive and desiring her presence at all times. I felt weird in front of other people, like how much I loved her showed on my face all the time for anyone to see; I felt vulnerable. I know Cyrene noticed how often I blushed, and that I did it in response to Gabrielle. But she didnt say anything. What was she going to say, really?
We went home again and again things were different and the same, like things always seem to be. Kissing wasnt one of those things you did once and then didnt do again. It was one of those things you did once and then wanted to do all the time. Sure, our life wasnt all that different from the way it had always been, but when we stopped our work or sparring or eating every so often to kiss, well, everything was different because of that. Everything was colored by the sweetness of our kisses.
As the days passed, our kissing became more intense. It took on deeper nuances. Some afternoons we would lie on the grass and kiss for hours, letting our thoughts dissolve into pure feeling, letting our hands roam each others backs and arms, tangling our fingers in each others hair. She was gentle and playful and demanding; what else would Gabrielle be like? Her skin felt so much softer than it had before, I guess because I was allowing myself to feel it on a different level. The way she stroked my cheek held so much love in it. Every time we touched it was like that, heavy with emotion and just so beautiful. I totally understood why the bards called it making love.
One night after wed been lying in bed kissing for hours, we had the following conversation.
I said, Ive got to go--
Check on Argo?
Can I ask you something, Xena?
Sometimes after we... kiss for a long time, I feel like I want to feel more, and I touch myself. Do you, ever? She looked almost as if she was afraid to have asked me.
Yes, I said, looking down at my hands. How did she know that was what I had been about to do?
Do you think about me?
I... it scares me. Ive never tried. I think about these two women I saw once, or nothing in particular.
If I asked you to, would you try next time?
You dont have to say it, just do it. She giggled.
Ill try, I said, But you have to answer the question, too. Who do you think about?
You have to say the whole sentence this time. She gave me her most devilishly cute smile, crinkling up her nose like she does.
I wanted to know badly enough, and it came out in one breath, Whodoyouthinkaboutwhenyoutouchyourself?
You. She virtually glowed with mischievous passion.
No one word had ever had such an effect on me before. Like my heart falling from my chest to land at the bottom of my stomach with a thump. I croaked out, Always?
Really? Who else do you think about?
Not in a million years would I tell someone like you something like that.
Because youre a jealous lover, Xena, thats why not!
Really? I was shocked and excited that I was any kind of lover. She gave me a look and I thought about it a minute. Yeah, I could see where Id be a jealous lover.
So one night I tried it, thinking about her, and of course it wasnt scary at all. It was amazing. I told her a few days later, late at night when we were sitting up in bed, kissing.
I did what you asked, I whispered into her ear, my hands gently caressing her back and shoulders, I touched myself and thought of you and it was...nice.
Gabrielle shivered and I could feel her hands slip under my shirt and onto the hot, naked skin of my back. My body jerked towards hers and I started to feel my control over myself slip. It felt too good, to put myself in her hands, to feel like there was nothing of me but the way it felt touching her and being touched by her.
Gabrielle, I whispered in her ear, short of breath from the feeling of her hands on my naked back, I need to stop.
Gabrielle pulled back from me, her eyes dark green, her expression unreadable. Her breathing was ragged and she asked, Could you... stay here? Her request made my body shudder with excitement.
Promise you wont watch? I asked shyly.
Anything you want. The deep timber of her voice aroused me even further.
I moved to the foot of the bed and tried to control my breathing. I touched myself tentatively, listening to Gabrielle breathe. She quickly developed a rhythm, and I copied it. The sounds she made as she pleasured herself sent tremors through my body. I closed my eyes and let myself follow her wherever she went, and we soon reached our destination together. I could barely breathe but I opened my eyes. I turned my head, and looked at her. Her hand was still under her skirt, and I watched as she turned to look at me. Something passed between us in that moment, something huge and primal.
Dont be afraid, its just me, she whispered.
I know, I said, smiling at her, Im never afraid when youre around.
I liked that a lot, she said, sounding shy for the first time in her life.
I liked it too, Gabrielle, I said, suddenly feeling unsure, We can do it again another time...if you want.
She pulled her skirt down and crawled along the bed and into my arms. The scent of her made my body begin to throb again but I ignored it. I closed my eyes and breathed her in. Everything about her was delicious. For once, I fell asleep first.
We did it every night for weeks. Kissed passionately for hours, then touched ourselves, never looking at each other or speaking while we did it. We didnt have the words to say how exciting it felt, but later we would share our feelings anyway; inadequate as we felt our expression of them was. I knew that it was practically sex. It made me feel grown up, like I was a real adult finally, because I felt these things, and made someone else feel these things too. She laughed when I told her that, and said she felt the same way.
Somehow our most serious talks seemed to occur after dark, around the campfire, and one night we had the following exchange.
Do you ever think about having children? she asked.
Huh? No, it never crosses my mind. Been there, done that.
What if I wanted to have children?
Be more specific, please. I continued to sharpen my sword.
Sometimes I think I would like to have a child some day, years and years from now, but sometimes I think about it. I just had hoped that you would want to do it with me. She was staring into the fire almost sadly.
Hey, I said, turning her head so she looked at me, Of course Ill do it with you if you want. We could even do it in a house, maybe.
A house. Wow, she said sarcastically, smiling and snuggling up next to me. I dont know what wed do about actually making the baby, though.
Havent thought that far, huh?
Nope, she said, suddenly staring out into the night.
I dont know the answer, Gabrielle.
You dont? she asked, knowing I had guessed her thoughts.
I dont. He could have been anyone.
I put my arm around her back and whispered in her ear. Why did she insist on hearing these things? I cant tell you. It was a big place. There were lots of men, lots of children. Im not even sure what kind of a place it was or who was in charge. I just knew how much stronger they all were than I was, and how scared I was of them. They could do anything to me that they wanted to do, and I wanted to keep living. I dont know why but I always did. It doesnt matter whose seed reached its destination first: you are my daughter. Only mine. I was alone, so totally alone there, and then suddenly there was you. Dont even consider crying, damn you.
But she was crying. I pulled her head to my chest and wrapped both my arms around her, saying things like, Oh sweetheart, its okay. You know its okay, look at me. Im here, Im fine. Were together just like we were meant to be. Come on.
Please dont be sorry. And especially not for being sorry.
Okay, she said, Im tired.
Sure, I said, lets go to bed.
I just wish I had been able to help you sooner, Xena, she said, When I think of those men touching you like that, and treating you like a slave, it makes me so angry I just want to kill them. And somehow I can picture you as a little girl, how cute you must have been, how much Cyrene loved you and wanted to find you, it just makes me so sad and so angry. She was crying again and I pulled her into my arms.
I want to kill them too but you know what? Im happy now. I have everything I need and an exciting life ahead of me, so why dwell in the past? But I would be surprised if you didnt feel the way you do. I would if I were you.
Yeah. And Id be hurt if you didnt want to kill them. Revenge is a natural emotion, you know, when someone hurts someone you love.
She giggled. Yeah. But were heroes so we dont give in to feelings like that.
Exactly, I said. Exactly.
Part Six: Destiny
And then began the period of the signs. They were everywhere. The animals had been behaving strangely for weeks. The weather was odd in general and there had been two eclipses in a very short period of time. I kept accidentally hurting myself, from minor cuts and bruises, to a broken thumb, and then there was the sword fighting injury that required thirty stitches. Both Gabrielle and I had numerous, long, elaborate dreams that we were unable to remember when we woke up. The air felt strange. We didnt discuss it. It went on for weeks.
One hot summer afternoon we were lying out on the grass, luxuriating in the feeling of it all against our skin. It was the first time we had really been naked together since wed begun this new part of our relationship a few months before, and it was as difficult to keep my eyes off her as it was to look at her. Just the thought of her nakedness was enough to make my body throb. After a while she crawled over and started kissing me and my skin just burned. I pulled her naked torso against mine and I moaned into her mouth. Suddenly it began to rain.
It shouldnt be raining, she whispered in my ear.
I dont care, I said. I touched her everywhere I could reach.
No, me neither, but, I mean, its a sign.
I know. Ive noticed them too. But I didnt want to say anything.
What do you think they mean, Xena?
What do you think?
I think they mean its time for us to go to Greece.
Me too, I said, and she started kissing me again. These were new kisses. Intensely passionate, meant to inflame my desire, challenging me to give in. The rain fell on us softly, making me smile. I followed her passion as it intensified, and I didnt stop her this time when her hands moved to the front of my body. I rose up into her, unable to control myself. Her wet skin moving against mine was intoxicating; I wanted it to never stop.
Xena, she breathed into my ear, I want to make love to you. I need to touch you. Please.
I answered her by rolling us over so she was lying on her back underneath me and I was looking down into her eyes.
Its normal to be scared, she whispered. We grinned at each other.
Didnt I tell you Im never scared when youre around? I asked her, leaning down to kiss her again. There was no fear, no restraint this time. We touched each other in ways we had never touched each other before. It was incredible. Water dripped from my body onto hers and we laughed and kissed and whispered as we moved together in sensual rapture. I felt devoured by love, by her. We gave each other everything we had, everything we were; a bonding so monumental and personal I wouldnt describe it if I could. There was nothing but us. We slowly came back to reality and eventually relaxed, finally catching our breath. We held each other tightly for a while in the gentle, warm rain. A joyous contentment flowed in waves from my body to hers and back again.
Thank you, I whispered after a few minutes of stroking her hair and calming my heartbeat. It was as if happiness flowed in my veins now instead of blood.
Oh, Xena, that was wonderful, she said, stretching and wrapping herself around me again.
I love you so much, I whispered, feeling overcome by it, your lips, your hands, your heart. Everything about you is perfect.
Xena, she said with a reverence that made me shiver with desire, as she shifted to look into my eyes. She lay half on top of me and she kissed me again. She was so beautiful I couldnt help but cry. How else could I let out emotion this strong?
I guess we can go to Greece now, she said. We both laughed. I sniffled a little.
Now that youve got me right where you want me?
Exactly. Nothing could separate us now. Could it?
Never could have. But Im glad we did... that.
Its called making love, she said, smiling at me, running her hand through my hair But Xena, you know, I would have stayed with you even if you never found this part of yourself.
And with that our childhood was officially over. It was time to face our destiny. The fortune teller had warned against it, but it was clear that we couldnt go with her recommendation. We couldnt think of our safety before that of others. We had no more excuses. Slowly we packed, deciding what to take, what to leave, what to give to Cyrene for safe-keeping. Wed studied our Greek so well we figured we could pass for natives, forgetting that of course we were natives. Leaving was hard. I was so proud of what wed built. As we stood with Argo looking at the locked doors of the cave for the last time in we didnt know how long, I will admit I cried. I could remember so clearly the first time Id seen the cave, how big and dark and safe it had looked to my ten-year-old eyes. And Id been right; I had chosen a wonderful place to make a home.
You remember, dont you Argo? I asked her. She snorted. I held Gabrielle tightly against me and tried to pull myself together.
Have I ever told you my earliest memory? she asked.
No, I said, resting my chin on her head and just letting my eyes move from the big wooden door, to the vegetable garden, the swings in the trees, to Gabrielles childhood animal graveyard. I couldnt believe we were leaving all this to see the world.
I must have been really little, and it was night. It was right here where were standing, by the campfire. You held me in your lap, wrapped in a fur, and I felt warm and safe, and so happy. She paused and then said, In fact, most of my early memories are very similar to that... I dont want to leave here either but I bet were gonna have the most wonderful time in Greece. And its not like were not gonna come back. This is our home.
We mounted Argo and set out for Givenchy. Wed worked for weeks designing and sewing the outfits we would set out in. She had gone for something simple; a short brown skirt in the style of the Greek Amazons, and a tiny green top with little green beads sewn into it. She looked adorable, and I pulled her closer against the elaborate copper breastplate Id made to fit over my dark brown leather battle dress; it was the outfit Id been wearing in the dream about the sword. It seemed appropriate that I make it. Her hair smelled like honey. I could do anything if she was by my side. I could save the entire world in a day; I loved her that much. Love was the most powerful force in existence; we would bring peace to the world with our love. I wouldnt dream of actually saying that to her, but it was the way I felt. Because we had each other, because we were so strong in our love, nothing could stop us.
Cyrene was not happy to hear that we were leaving. The three of us sat at a table at the back of her tavern, having dinner and trying not to get upset.
But what if something happens to you? After everything weve all been through, how can you take the chance of going back to Greece?
What choice do we have? Its our destiny. I explained.
Then I have to come with you.
No, no you have to stay here, I said, We have to set things right. Youve done your part. Please.
I knew shed do what we wanted in the end, she always did. So we left all the scrolls with her, including a copy of this one which I asked her specifically not to read, but I wanted her to have, just in case. Right before we left for Greece, Cyrene caught me alone in our bedroom.
I wanted to tell you that I support you, Xena, she said, I wanted to make sure you knew that, and that Im proud of you. I know that whatever you do is the right thing. Or even if its not, its your life to make your own mistakes with.
Thank you, I said, a little choked up, It means a lot to hear that. Im going to miss you.
Youll be back... And I wanted to say, about Gabrielle, and you. Dont interrupt. I cant tell you that I understand, but I couldnt begin to judge the two of you. I wouldnt dare.
She laughed and we hugged. I told her I loved her. I even called her Mother, because for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to have one. I was sitting down, my head pillowed on her breast as Cyrene stood above me, stroking my hair. It reminded me of something, but what was it? Was it Cyrene? It was her, the same smell, but it was different. She was so much bigger, or was I smaller? And then I realized that it was a memory, that I was remembering what it felt like to be a small child in my mothers arms. It made me cry.
Cyrene soothed me, asking what was wrong.
I remember. You. What it felt like, I said quietly, my eyes still closed, not wanting to lose the feeling.
I love you more than anything, Xena; please be careful.
I will, I promised.
She held me more tightly and we stayed like that a while.
Gabrielle and I left Givenchy in early spring, camping along the river as we moved east. Soon we were out of Gaul for the first time in almost 16 years. It felt different. We easily fell into a routine at our campsites; she would gather wood and cook, while I set up camp and hunted. My instincts when it came to hunting were remarkable. We practiced the hand signals wed created so we could send each other messages without anyone else knowing what we said. She wrote furiously in her journal, noting down every single thing she thought and did. At night we made love under the stars, whispering our fears and dreams, sharing the depth of our feelings again and again. Every day was an exciting adventure. We were blessed.
In Germania I killed a man. It was late, in a tavern where there had been an ale drinking contest going on since sundown. It had come down to a competition between myself and this giant of a man, and when I won he made the mistake of trying to take a prize that was not his. While I was looking down at my new coins where they lay on the ale-drenched table, he grabbed Gabrielle and pushed her up against the wall of the tavern. I looked up and saw him pawing at her. I jumped out of my chair, knocking over the table, and I punched him in the face. He dropped Gabrielle and she fell into my arms. I held her tight against me and looked at him.
Shes mine, I said, Just like the money.
He drew his sword. I pushed Gabrielle behind the bar, and I drew my sword as well. He came at me and, though he was a decent swordsman, he was dead in moments. It was easy. Too easy.
He shouldnt have touched her, I said to the crowd that was staring at me. It was the best my drunken, bewildered mind could come up with. Gabrielle pulled me out of the tavern and into the cool night.
Are you okay? she asked, as she continued to lead me towards the forest at the edge of town where our campsite was.
Fine, I said.
No, not really. We entered the forest and she pushed me up against a tree and held me tightly as I sobbed. I didnt mean to kill him, I whispered.
I know, she said, soothing me, running her hands through my hair, I understand.
I just...I couldnt...
I know. Its okay. Next time just go for a nice deep wound in the sword arm.
Youre so practical, I joked through my tears.
Shes mine, just like the money? Gabrielle asked playfully. Youve really got that hero-talk down, huh?
She smiled at me and I laughed and cried into her hair. Part of me felt he deserved to die for what he tried to do, even though he was drunk. Was that heroic? We moved our campsite up to a small cave, far enough from the town that I felt safe to sleep, and I asked her if I had already failed.
You, failed? she asked.
Yeah, me. As a hero. I mean, that wasnt the right thing to do Gabrielle, I know that. I should have been able to control myself. Hes dead now because I couldnt control my anger.
Xena, the thing about heroes is that most of them are flawed. And you know whats ironic?
What? I asked, calming just from her voice, from the beat of her heart under my ear.
I think that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness.
How much we love each other.
There are worse weaknesses.
No matter what we do, Xena, were going to make mistakes. Its only natural. We have accept that.
You never get tired of being right, do you?
Never. But its gonna take a while for me to forgive you for leaving all those coins on the floor.
We traveled along, living mostly on the money Gabrielle made telling her stories and odd jobs Id pick up. She was right; it was fun. It was a lot like being at home, because it soon became clear, being at home was being with Gabrielle. Wherever we were was terrific. Sleeping on rocks in the rain, having to fight bandits upon awakening, getting slightly poisoned by eating the wrong berries; these things were a joy. But we were trying to get to Greece, and somewhere along the way we got lost.
There are supposed to be road signs, said Gabrielle yet again from her perch atop Argo. It was a very hot day.
I know. You said that before.
Do you have any idea where we are?
No more than I did five minutes ago, my love. I searched the treetops for any clue as to which way to go.
Do you think were in Greece yet?
Please stop asking questions you know I dont know the answers to.
Come over here and make me, she said, her eyes sparkling. I walked over to the horse and grabbed the reins from her hand. She leaned down and kissed me. It was a gentle kiss, and it made me smile. Better? she asked.
Always, I said.
Suddenly there was a rustling of leaves and a girl appeared out of the bushes at the side of the road. She was about Gabrielles age, with long dark hair, and she looked terrified. How long had she been hiding there?
Youve got to help, she said, her voice tinged with panic, the warriors are destroying my village. Theyve rounded up all the women to take as slaves.
Well help you, said Gabrielle, getting down off Argo and putting her hand on the girls shoulder. Which way is it?
Poteidaia? the girl asked, her hand trembling as she pointed, That way. Thank you. Please hurry. My mother...
Whats your name? Gabrielle asked.
Lila, said the girl.
Dont worry, Lila, we'll save them, said Gabrielle warmly.
Are we in Greece? I asked. Lila nodded, looking at me like I was crazy. You stay here, I told her. She nodded again and got back into her hiding place in the bushes. I mounted Argo and pulled Gabrielle up behind me.
Be careful, called the girl as we rode off, They say the warlord Draco is a heartless fiend.
Draco, huh? boasted Gabrielle in my ear as we rode toward Poteidaia, I bet I could take him easy.
I bet you could, I agreed.
Weve probably only been in Greece a few hours and already were helping people.
Amazing, I said.
The countryside went by in a blur. Now that we had arrived in Greece, the deal went, my part of the story was over. I had told what only I could tell, and the rest of our adventures were to come from the quill of the Amazon bard herself. I had to think of an appropriate ending place and hand the scroll off.
Suddenly ahead of us on the road, the peaceful afternoon was interrupted by warriors wearing hats with strange black plumage, tying a group of women up in a line. Our first real battle right there waiting for us.
Looks like we found em, whispered Gabrielle.
I turned in the saddle and kissed her.
For good luck, I explained, Not that we need it.
I gave Argo a nudge, and as we rode into battle for the first time, I knew that this was only the beginning of the fighting. But the two of us together, Xena and Gabrielle; we were too strong to be stopped. The Greek gods didnt know what they had coming.
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